For Jessica Levy, founder and president of Levy Public Relations, based in Miami, Florida, recognizing employees and celebrating milestones has always been an important part of running a business. In the past, she would celebrate achievements by taking her team of 15 out for nice dinners or even on company trips. But this year, as her staff worked remotely because of COVID-19, she knew she needed to get creative to commemorate the 10th anniversary of her firm on May 1.
Her solution: She sent them all a breakfast delivery, along with a bottle of Champagne and orange juice. They all joined in for a 9 a.m. video call and raised a glass together, while watching a video Levy created highlighting some of the firm’s meaningful moments from the last decade. It brought back so many memories, both personal and professional, many of them became teary-eyed. “We’ve seen each other through marriages, children, boyfriends, girlfriends, breakups, all of it. You go back through that photo reel and it brings back those amazing memories,” says Levy.
Levy and many small-business leaders across the country understand that it’s critical to recognize employees, even under the cloud of the pandemic. As business leaders decide whether to reopen or remain remote, they must now find creative ways to acknowledge milestones and achievements from afar.
“Every opportunity that a company has to celebrate something, no matter how small or large that something is, they really should take advantage of trying to lift the morale of the employees,” says Matthew Jarzynski, vice president, human resources with Synergy, a Chicago-based professional employer organization providing human resources management support to small- and medium-size companies.
How will social distancing change office gatherings?
Gone for now are the days of break-room parties and catered buffet lunches. Jarzynski says that as workplaces reopen, they may look different than they did before, and the new designs will likely discourage employee get-togethers. Synergy recently published a blog on employer best practices for reopening, which include taking measures such as closing common areas, staggering shifts, avoiding group activities and limiting in-person meetings. “I don’t know how you have a celebration for half of your team and then for the other half,” he says.
It’s up to human resources teams and small-business leaders to be forthright about the new rules and regulations so that they’re inclusive as people return to the workplace. “I think one of the most important things is communication. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Let the employees know what the new world looks like, or what it’s going to look like, if and when they start returning to work,” says Jarzynski.
When revising workplace traditions, such as parties and group outings, leadership at every organization must find solutions that are effective for their establishment, and then be transparent about those solutions when sharing them with employees. They should also ensure that employees are comfortable with those changes. “I think companies need to be aware of not forcing people to participate, because everybody feels a little bit differently about how we should proceed at this point,” says Jarzynski.
How can organizations show appreciation for their teams in the era of social distancing?
Those days of lavish restaurant meals, elegant galas and company trips may be on hold for some time. But there are countless ways to show appreciation. Virtual gatherings, like Levy organized, are one option, and there are many creative approaches to build culture and include the whole team, even while working remotely. Levy says that she’s looking into ideas such as virtual painting classes, virtual yoga, workout challenges and maybe even a virtual comedy event. “Just things to keep the morale up as much as possible,” says Levy.
Jarzynski says that small companies could even consider an outdoor, socially distanced picnic, if employees are comfortable with that. He also says it’s a good time to get back to the basics, and opt for simple but meaningful gestures of gratitude, such as mailing a birthday or anniversary card to the person celebrating. The business owner could also make a phone call to employees to congratulate them, personally, on important milestones. “An 'attaboy' every once in a while would be nice,” he says.
Every opportunity that a company has to celebrate something, no matter how small or large that something is, they really should take advantage of trying to lift the morale of the employees.
—Matthew Jarzynski, vice president, human resources, Synergy
Business leaders can also consider instituting a service awards program, where team members receive a monetary award or gift based on the time they’ve worked at the business. “At our company, on someone’s anniversary we give them a monetary gift based upon their length of service. We’ve been saying have a nice lunch on us or treat your spouse or significant other to dinner,” says Jarzynski.
Recognition should also be given for a job well done or new client acquisition, even if it’s just a quick email, says Jarzynski. “My philosophy as a manager is just the personal touch, the kind word, the thank you is important. And that’s something that can be done in today’s environment as well, even though people are working remotely,” he says.
Why celebrations are still important
Appreciation may, in fact, be especially meaningful now, as so many people work in isolation and feel uncertain about what’s next. Jarzynski has, himself, been working remotely at his kitchen table for more than two months, as have his 30-plus colleagues at Synergy, with no immediate plans to return to the office, even as the state of Illinois begins to reopen. “You start to feel like you’re on an island,” says Jarzynski. “You lose that sense of camaraderie. You lose the sense of blowing off some steam with the person that sits at the cubicle up the line from you, and it’s a lonesome feeling,” he says. When there’s a chance to connect, even if it’s via a video-streamed happy hour, it can make a big difference in how an employee feels about themselves and their work. “Actually seeing your colleagues, it does kind of lift your spirits,” he says.
Levy adds that when her team gets together for virtual events, they’re often still talking about it during their virtual morning meeting the next day. “I think bringing any company together or team together doing something that’s not work oriented, it’s just for fun, it creates more productivity. You get more excited about your job. You get more excited about working with everyone, even if you’re not physically in the same location,” she says
While many businesses across the country are starting to return to the physical workspace, others—including Synergy and Levy Public Relations—will continue to work virtually for the foreseeable future. And that means their leaders will need to continue to come up with more clever ways to celebrate, even from far away. “Until there’s some sort of vaccine, I think a lot of celebrations are going to be via technology,” says Jarzynski.
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